Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reports Arkansas is set to hire Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, with an announcement anticipated later today and official introduction on Wednesday.
Despite a 7-5 and third place finish in the Big Ten Leaders division, Bielema led Wisconsin to its third straight Rose Bowl. The Badgers capitalized on NCAA sanctions eliminating Ohio State and Penn State from conference championship contention, routing Legends division champion Nebraska on Saturday, 70-31.
Bielema has an outstanding 68-24 record since replacing Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez in 2006. He spent two seasons as Alvarez’s defensive coordinator before taking over as head coach.
This surprise hiring is the culminating twist in a fascinating tale for the Razorbacks. Numerous names were bandied about the rumor mill, including Baylor head coach Art Briles, Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden and even rival LSU’s Les Miles. Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy emerged as the hot name on Tuesday morning, only to dissipate just hours before Forde broke the Bielema news. Credit athletic director Jeff Long for playing this move so close to the chest amid wild rumor mongering.
Arkansas’ story begins in December 2007, when Petrino quit as Atlanta Falcons head coach with three games left in the NFL regular season to take over the vacancy Houston Nutt left. Nutt resigned two weeks earlier, just days after upsetting No. 1 LSU. Nutt is Arkansas’ second most winning coach all-time.
After a disappointing 5-7 initial campaign, each Razorback team under Petrino improved, culminating in an 11-2 finish last season. With quarterback Tyler Wilson returning, and running back Knile Davis back from injury, Arkansas was a trendy pick to upset LSU and Alabama in the SEC West. But a motorcycle accident began a series of events that led to Petrino’s ouster in April. Former Razorback assistant John L. Smith was named the interim head coach despite accepting the coaching vacancy at Weber State earlier in the offseason.
The Razorbacks sputtered to a 4-8 finish under Smith, whose off-field problems overshadowed the disappointing results on the gridiron. Yet despite the disappointing results in 2012, Arkansas has a foundation for a successful immediate future. The university unveiled plans for major facility upgrades last year. Talent already in the program also gives the next coach a favorable situation in his first year.